It has not been a good season so far for Russia’s biggest club, Zenit Saint Petersburg. Zenit, which are the acting Russian champion, are already eight points behind their closest rival and league leaders CSKA Moscow, and what is even worse, find themselves on the third spot, as Lokomotiv Moscow are three points ahead of Zenit (only the first and second place finishers qualify for the UEFA Champions League).
Zenit’s performance has been inconsistent this year, and has already led to a major crisis at the club. Zenit coach, André Villas-Boas, received a six-match ban following an altercation with the referee at Zenit’s 3-1 home defeat to Krylia Sovetov Samara. The media speculated that this could prove to be the end for Villas-Boas in Russia—wild media speculations even suggested that Jürgen Klopp could replace Villas-Boas. In the end, it was announced that Villas-Boas would step down at the end of the season.
It was a logical conclusion to the saga, as neither the coach nor the club thought it would be possible to continue the relationship indefinitely. As Saul Pope pointed out on September 11, under Villas-Boas’ leadership this season, Zenit have been nothing more than a bunch of talented individuals who happen to be on the pitch at the same time.
Villas-Boas, of course, would likely argue otherwise and point out that he had asked for greater investments in the squad in order to not only guarantee a successful performance in the league, but also to comply with the board’s target to reach the final eight of the UEFA Champions League. Financial Fair Play regulations, and a stricter foreign player limitation known as 6+5, introduced by the Russian Football Union, have made it difficult for Zenit to invest their Gazprom millions into new international star signings.
It now appears that with Zenit having to fight hard to earn the necessary second place finish that would allow the club to play in next year’s Champions League qualifiers, the board has decided to make some necessary investments to ensure that the minimum targets can be met. Target number one seems to be the Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo, who according to Transfermarkt.de has fallen out of favour with Manchester United’s Dutch coach, Louis van Gaal.
But is Rojo the answer to Zenit’s problems? According to the online platform Whoscored.com, Zenit’s biggest weaknesses this year have been threefold: avoiding individual errors, defending against attacks down the wings, and defending against long shots. As a left-defender, Rojo’s play could bring some stability to Zenit’s defensive play down the wings. At the same time, however, Whoscored.com also points out that Rojo biggest weakness is his lack of concentration, not exactly a desirable attribute for someone, who is supposed to correct Zenit’s awareness issues in defence.
Even though Marcos Rojo was convincing at the Copa America this summer in Chile—where he received an average Whoscored.com score of 7.23—it seemed that van Gaal was not convinced on the subject of the defender’s abilities. This has led to Rojo being one of the few high calibre defenders available on the transfer market this winter. Another point in his favour is that Rojo has played in the RFPL in the past—from January 2011 to June 2012 he played for Spartak Moscow before moving on to Sporting Lisbon. Indeed, his transfer to Zenit could be a sensible move for all of the parties involved, as Rojo would remain at a club that plays in the Champions League, and for Villas-Boas and Zenit, Rojo could be the missing building block which ensures that Zenit achieves its minimum targets this season.
Feature Image via turnstyle.co.uk